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Two environmental Bills were introduced into the Ontario Legislature this week: approvals reform, and a major push to develop and export clean water technology.

For most Ontario businesses, the approvals reform package will be, by far, the most important. The Bill will amend the Environmental Protection Act and related statutes to create a two track system: a simplified permit by rule registry system for low risk, low complexity activities; and a multimedia Environmental Compliance Approval that will replace existing air, water, and waste approvals over the next 10 years.The Ministry of the Environment hopes to have the new approval system up and running by September 2011.

The general concept is widely supported, although some environmental groups worry that it will undercut public supervision of industrial activity.  The devil, of course, will be in the details.  Consultations will take place this fall on those details: which sectors and activities will qualify for the new registry, and under what conditions.  Activities that do qualify may be able to obtain immediate permits on standard conditions for routine activities, such as paint booths or waste trucks.

Approvals reform is designed as a method of program delivery, and has been one of the largest projects the ministry has undertaken many years.  In addition, it requires significant policy clarification on issues such as cumulative effects, buffer zones and financial assurance. Different ministries teams are continuing to work on these issues, which must be finalized to permit detailed development of the approvals reform rules.

The approvals reform discussion paper, earlier this spring, included a controversial proposal to hold parent companies liable for the financial assurance of their subsidiaries. This proposal has not been carried forward in the Bill, but is still being actively studied.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister Beggs proudly announced that the approvals backlog has been eliminated, i.e. the ministry is now issuing approvals at approximately the same speed that they receive applications. Unfortunately, this has not done much to shorten what is often a very long wait to have approvals issued.

On another issue, congratulations to Gord Miller  on his reappointment as Environmental Commissioner.  And warmest congratulations to everyone involved in the negotiation of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement.

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